Canuplin (Canuto Francia), c. 1967
Awaiting Customer, c. 1970s
Black Nazarene procession, 1965
Romeo “Romy” V. Vitug (b. 1937, Floridablanca, Pampanga), honored as the first cinematographer in the FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) Hall of Fame, had his roots in photojournalism. He worked for two news publications in the sixties then briefly trained as a newsreel cameraman before moving to cinematography in the seventies. One of his most acclaimed works in photography is his coverage for the Black Nazarene procession which won the grand prize in the 1965 Photo Contest of Asia Magazine. His “one obsession,” as written in the catalog of the landmark 5 Photographers exhibition in 1967, is uplifting photography as an art form.
As a young man, he already wanted to pursue photography but took pre-law instead after the urging of his father, Honesto Vitug who was considered the Dean of Philippine Photojournalism. Still insistent to make photography his career, Romy eventually dropped the course. After efforts to dissuade his son from photography, Honesto told a manager in a government agency where he was enlisting Romy as a clerk that his son also knew how to take photos. That was 1957, the same year where Romy also became an unpaid apprentice in Manila Chronicle, the publication where his father worked.
One of his earliest assignments was to cover the funeral procession of President Ramon Magsaysay. While shooting, his father coached him to focus on people’s reactions. The following day, his photo of a grieving crowd made the front page. Despite this, it still took four years before he became a staff member mainly due to the insistence of his father that Romy should be hired based on merit and not their connection. In addition to this, Honesto’s rivalry with the photo editor made it difficult for him to get assignments. Undeterred, Romy continued to practice photography in his “big studio” along the reclamation area in Manila Bay where the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) would be built. It was also where he witnessed a drowning incident in July 1961, where his coverage of the event led to his long-awaited regularization and another front-page feature the day after.
In Chronicle, he improved his photography through other staff like Dick Baldovino whom he usually consulted about darkroom film processing. He also hung around Mauro “Malang” Santos, their layout artist and photo editor, to learn from his acute judgment on what a good photograph is. Aside from his colleagues, he also befriended the Saturday Group including BenCab and Vicente Manansala whom Romy overheard giving the advice “you must put something coming from you,” a principle he has applied to his practice since then.
In 1966, he transferred to The Manila Times where BenCab was also working. BenCab’s pivotal role in Romy’s photography career was suggesting that he mount a solo exhibition at Gallery Indigo, which materialized early 1967. Later that year, BenCab included him in the 5 Photographers exhibition along with Mario Co, Silverio Enriquez, Joe Gabor, and Ed Santiago who were picked due to their works having “the same qualities as Cartier Bresson.” Two more iterations of the exhibit were held in 1973 at the Hidalgo Gallery and in 2007 at the Silverlens Gallery.
Another highlight in Romy’s photography work was shooting the campaigns of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. While Honesto was working for Diosdado Macapagal, Romy was for the opponent without the knowledge of his father. When Marcos
won against Macapagal, he “liked Romy so much” that he commissioned him for more presidential campaigns. Romy also shot the end of Marcos’s political career when the Marcoses left Malacañang in 1986, making it again on the front page when his photo was featured in the Philippine Daily Inquirer the day after their departure.
His eventual shift to cinematography happened through director Lino Brocka whom he met at Channel 5 where Romy trained as a newsreel cameraman. He was the publicity photographer for Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974) and became the cinematographer for the director’s next film, Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa (1974). Aside from his prolific work in feature films, he also shot television shows such as Tanging Yaman, Good Son, and Ang Probinsyano and commercials for San Miguel Beer Centennial, Sunsilk, and so forth.
Although he already focused on cinematography, Romy still took photos occasionally where some of his works appeared in publications such as Photolanguage Philippines (1978) by Jescom Philippines and the 1991 Philippine version of Eric Morris’s books on acting including Irreverent Acting, No Acting Please, and Being & Doing.
Rahyan Carlos, a frequent collaborator in his television work, is planning to write his biography and shoot a documentary about his life. (Lk Rigor)
Bautista, Jay. “Romy Vitug: Unedited, Uncensored.” philvisualarts, philvisualarts.blogspot.com/2013/10/romy-vitug-unedited-uncensored.html. Accessed 7 July 2022.
BenCab. “Bencab on the 5 Photographers.” Transcribed by Regina Abuyuan.
Carlos, Rahyan. Visited Tatay Romy. Facebook, 10 July 2022, 11:44 p.m., www.facebook.com/rahyanc/posts/pfbid023bpcMGEwh4m5j5fsKWBgFM
ekPkuojJThp6i2bLjjRqpChhexHbg5Kvpvp9yW8P2nl. Accessed 14 July 2022.
Co Enriquez Gabor Santiago Vitug: A Photographic Portfolio. Gallery Indigo, 1967.
Contreras, Melissa G. “Through a lens, brightly.” Manila Chronicle, 13 May 1989, p. 18.
Dionisio, Veron. “Romy Vitug continues to make wonders behind the camera.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 29 May 1999, p. F2.
Lacar, May. “Romy Vitug’s reason for being.” The Manila Times, 03 Dec. 1993, p. B11.
Rodrigo, Raul. The Power and The Glory: The Story of the Manila Chronicle 1945-1998. Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Philippines, 2007.
“Sea tragedy in pictures.” Manila Chronicle, 10 July 1961, pp. 1+.
Torrevillas, Domini M. “Photographs on the changing times.” PhilStar, 13 Dec. 2007, www.philstar.com/opinion/2007/12/13/32939/photographs-changing-times
Vitug, Romy. Interview by Zhuang Wubin. 25 Feb. 2020.